SFX - - The punisher -

Jon Bern­thal’s fist fills the mon­i­tor screen, the cam­era tight on his sharp white knuck­les and fu­ri­ous veins. the fin­gers clutch and un­clench, shud­der­ing with barely re­pressed rage. as faintly ter­ri­fy­ing hand act­ing goes, SFX is wit­ness­ing a masterclass.

“noth­ing in this world i hate more than a bomb,” Bern­thal de­clares, in a voice that sounds like Dirty harry gar­gling shrap­nel with a ce­ment chaser. “God­damn cow­ards.”

You have, you imag­ine, ap­prox­i­mately five sec­onds to re­con­sider your life choices.

“those mag­gots, they think they’re go­ing to scare peo­ple. Who­ever did this, they’re in for a world of shit.” Cut. that’s a take. “is that the kind of shake you want?” Bern­thal asks, pos­si­bly con­cerned he hasn’t de­liv­ered quite the right de­gree of bor­der­line psy­chosis. “Maybe a lit­tle bit more?”

Wel­come to frank Cas­tle’s world. if that’s too un­set­tling a prospect for you – and if it is, what ex­actly are you hid­ing? – let’s sim­ply call it the new York stu­dio set of The Punisher, the lat­est col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Marvel’s tV divi­sion and stream­ing gi­ant net­flix.

We’re in the nerve cen­tre of the gun-tot­ing avenger’s war on crime, a dank base­ment in an aban­doned in­dus­trial build­ing where tech-head side­kick Mi­cro com­mands a dusty ar­se­nal of computers so an­cient they may still be dial-up. there’s a makeshift kitchen, a toxic-look­ing mat­tress, a bru­tal lack of day­light and a gen­eral vibe of long hours spent pon­der­ing the ex­is­ten­tial re­al­i­ties of vi­o­lence. a sign warns Dan­Ger hiGh Volt­aGe, though whether that’s re­fer­ring to elec­tric­ity or frank’s gen­eral dis­po­si­tion is any­one’s guess.

“i think anti-he­roes with dark pasts, that are mo­rally grey, are al­ways very in­ter­est­ing to write,” says showrun­ner steve light­foot, no stranger to eth­i­cally com­plex pro­tag­o­nists given his pre­vi­ous work on Han­ni­bal. “it gives you a lot more to play with than some­thing where it’s just white hats and black hats.

“i was drawn to a guy who is deal­ing with grief – how does he do that? in many ways he uses rage, be­cause as long as he’s an­gry he doesn’t have to ad­mit to him­self that he’s hurt. i was fas­ci­nated by what hap­pens when that guy has to ad­mit he’s hurt. We talked a lot as we de­vel­oped the show that once you take hold of the hand of vi­o­lence it’s im­pos­si­ble to let it go. that re­la­tion­ship to vi­o­lence re­ally in­ter­ested me, not just the fact he has the abil­ity to use it but also the cost of that.”

Marvel’s bul­let-spritz­ing vig­i­lante has been brought to the screen be­fore. Dolph lund­gren, thomas Jane and ray steven­son wore the skull sym­bol in three movies re­leased be­tween 1989

at heart we have a tough guy hav­ing to deal with the loss of fam­ily

and 2008. Jon Bern­thal de­buted as the net­flix in­car­na­tion of the Punisher in sea­son two of

Dare­devil, bring­ing his unique brand of ur­ban re­newal to hell’s Kitchen. th­ese 13 episodes prom­ise to ex­plore the blood­ied comic book icon in greater depth than ever be­fore.

“You saw him in Dare­devil, where he is pretty bru­tal and pretty dark,” says light­foot. “But on that show he was al­ways on a mis­sion. You only got to see 25 per cent of who he was, and it was the guy who was al­ways killing. he was an an­tag­o­nist, not the pro­tag­o­nist. We carry on in a way that fans of the char­ac­ter will be sat­is­fied by, but we’re also show­ing the other 75% of the char­ac­ter, en­rich­ing him and mak­ing the hu­man side more present.

“in Dare­devil he was a guy with a very sim­ple agenda, which was re­venge. and that was used to high­light Matt Murdock’s dilem­mas. in this show we’ve had to give him dilem­mas of his own. With any show, even if it’s about su­per­heroes or what­ever, you have to find things that nor­mal peo­ple will iden­tify with, that are every­man qual­i­ties. i’ve never been a spe­cial forces guy who kills 50 peo­ple but i do know what it’s like to grieve. at heart you’ve got a very tough guy who isn’t nec­es­sar­ily great at show­ing his feel­ings, hav­ing at some point to deal with the loss of his fam­ily. and that’s some­thing ev­ery­one can iden­tify with. We can em­pathise with that, if not the ac­tions it leads to.”

triG­Ger haPPy

Given frank’s ac­tions come locked-and-loaded, light­foot knows the show walks the line be­tween li­cenc­ing him to pur­sue his meth­ods and turn­ing the blood­bath into en­ter­tain­ment. But for all its body count this isn’t Death

Wish-style vig­i­lante porn, he tells SFX. “i think that’s the is­sue with ev­ery ac­tion movie or su­per­hero movie ever, isn’t it? it’s the whole thing of you root­ing for the guys fly­ing around but in the mean­time they’re knock­ing over en­tire build­ings, and you won­der if there’s any­one in them… there is al­ways that re­spon­si­bil­ity and i think you have to root it in story and char­ac­ter. hope­fully we’re the right side of that line. i don’t think we’re a gra­tu­itous show. We’re show­ing the cost of the vi­o­lence rather than be­ing flip­pant about it.

“Peo­ple have al­ways been both re­pelled and en­ter­tained by vi­o­lence,” the showrun­ner con­tin­ues. “in Dare­devil they didn’t shy away from it. they made it real. Per­son­ally my taste is if you’re go­ing to do vi­o­lence then it shouldn’t be flip­pant. if you’re go­ing to see some­one get hit in the face i’d rather you saw that it re­ally hurt and play the reper­cus­sions of it as well as the en­ter­tain­ment. i think we pull that off in the show. the fights are ex­cit­ing but they’re also some­what sober­ing.”

frank Cas­tle’s not quite the loner of le­gend, for all that you imag­ine he prefers a well-oiled gun stash to hu­man com­pany. the show im­ports Deb­o­rah ann Woll as Karen Page, build­ing on the re­la­tion­ship es­tab­lished in Dare­devil sea­son two. While Karen is key to hu­man­is­ing frank, he’s also paired with ebon Moss-Bachrach as for­mer nsa an­a­lyst Mi­cro, a tech­no­log­i­cal en­abler in­tro­duced to the comics in the late ’80s.

“their skill-sets are very dif­fer­ent,” says light­foot. “in some ways one of them’s the mis­sile and one of them’s the guid­ance sys­tem. When we started de­vel­op­ing the show i was re­ally keen to not have Mi­cro just be a side­kick. he has a full story of his own. him and frank in­ter­sect but he’s not just some­one serv­ing frank’s story. for me he pulls frank from fight­ing for re­venge to ac­tu­ally fight­ing for some kind of fu­ture. rather than it be­ing about the past it’s about what’s next. he’s a pretty rich char­ac­ter in his own right.”

the dark heart of it all, of course, is Jon Bern­thal, the man who has to show the bru­talised soul be­neath the Punisher’s scar tis­sue. light­foot’s quick to praise his star.

“he’s just a fan­tas­tic ac­tor,” he says. “What i love about Jon is that he’s in­cred­i­bly phys­i­cal and so you gen­uinely buy that guy can do that stuff. Jon has a phys­i­cal­ity that makes you be­lieve, ‘ac­tu­ally, that guy would prob­a­bly win that fight…’

“But at the same time he’s an in­cred­i­bly sen­si­tive, emo­tive ac­tor. the joy of it is you can give him the tough stuff to do and he’s un­flinch­ing. Jon’s not scared to lose the au­di­ence for a while by dark deeds, but he’s an ac­tor who al­ways has the abil­ity to win them back. in the end he’s re­ally sen­si­tive and he lets the au­di­ence in. With­out that it’d be hard to pull the show off.”

in the base­ment set the crew are go­ing for an­other take, the cam­era still close on Bern­thal’s hand, trem­bling as if ea­ger to take crime it­self by the throat.

“let’s do one more for con­ti­nu­ity on that, Jon,” calls the di­rec­tor. Bern­thal gives a deeply frank Cas­tle smile. “Con­ti­nu­ity is for pussies.”

The Punisher will be avail­able on Net­flix this au­tumn.

Tak­ing a break from snap­ping necks to take in the sky­line.

Karen re­turns to tell Frank she prefers his leather jacket. Raid­ing Ar­gos’s ware­house for a cheap smart­phone.

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